Friday, December 26, 2008

The Fifth Day of Comic-mas: Five Gory Things

Yes, "the twelve days of comic-mas" isn't moving along nearly as fast as the actually holiday season is, but I've been distracted by another holiday countdown: my twelve nights of consecutive karaoke. I'm determined to finish these reviews, though, and I've given myself until New Year's Day to do so. Heck, if you follow some religious traditions, Christmas doesn't technically end until January 6, dubbed Little Christmas, which honors the arrival of the Wise Men. I hope it doesn't come to that, but if so thank the Catholics for their thorough celebrations. Moving on . . .

For children and geeks alike, toys are a critical part of the Christmas holiday. When I was a child, I anxiously awaited the army of action figures that waited for me under the tree, and some twenty-five years later, my wish list hasn't changed a bit: Green Lantern, Aquaman, He-Man, Beast-Man. The figures have changed quite a bit, though -- from the old, practically-bound-by-rubber bands Masters of the Universe guys to the new, finely sculpted and articulated Matty Collector line, or from the old "squeeze my legs" Super Powers to the new DC Universe Classics. Also, the rite of acquisition has changed; my mother doesn't comb department store aisles for these figure anymore, but opts to give the cash and the deed to that hunt, which is just as well, considering the Target or Wal-Mart exclusivity of these toys. Now, rather than run downstairs to the Christmas tree, I'm running to the toy aisle at Target, but that eager feeling is just the same.

So, ACG's Christmas Horror special resonates more so than usual, as its cover depicts a creepy Santa unloading severed heads from his sack, and its contents feature four stories of creepy toys. Children often dream of intercepting Santa, and this cover image twists it to represent an issue of harrowing potential. Thankfully, the stories don't disappoint, though I am confused as to whether the material is new or reprinted, since its production quality is relatively low, rife with muddied lettering and/or shading. Either way, if the effect is intended to mimic pre-Comics Code horror, or if these tales were dug up from genuinely classic anthologies, bravo. I'm sure a brief Internet search would reveal the truth, but the mystery is just as enjoyable -- which is what keeps most kids from spying on Santa in the first place.

I should also note that many of these tales reminded me of the classic Twilight Zone episode "Living Doll" starring Teddy Savalas. It's definitely one of the series' best; look it up if you haven't seen it.

To sum up these terrifying tales of holiday horror: The first features a kid that thwarts an airplane hijacking by bringing his action figures to life. In what seems like The Indian and the Cupboard on acid, the terrorists are picked off by the likes of an incarnated pirate, caveman, knight, and the like. In the end, the child is revealed as death itself -- a cop out of a twist, but it isn't the end of this story the reader is meant to enjoy, but the means.

In "Terrible Teddy," a bank robber accidentally runs over and kills a boy on his pursuit from the police, but before the fuzz can catch him, the child's tattered teddy bear does the burglar in, first by way of the crook's own paranoia, then with fangs, claws, and good old fashioned revenge-fueled malling. Where was "My Buddy" when those kids picked on me in elementary school, eh?

"The Thing Some Kids Dream Up!" is the most ambitious and elusive of the issue's stories, since the cause of its fright isn't rightly explained, if only through the motivations of the supernatural. Instead, this is the simply a story of a child's nightmares made manifest, then of his own bravery in defeating them when his father steps into the crossfire. Its illustrations were also different than the others, the line work more crisp and less characteristic of a traditional classic.

Finally, the last of the four stories also stars a teddy bear, one direly devoted to its childish master. In this case, the teddy becomes the presumably imaginary friend to the neglected child of wealthy parents, and when the butlers implements the girl's abduction and attempted ransom, the bear strikes! In her sudden absence, the parents also realize their faults and vow to become better parents, and the bear . . . well, it finds another child to "save." The open-ended nature of this tale is the best way to end the issue overall.

Interestingly, only that last yarn has an element of Christmas in it; the others simply boasts influential, haunted toys. Again, though, it's the cover that ties it all together, transporting the mind back to that first moment under the Christmas tree. Heck, think about the way you approached those gifts, eager to rip open the wrapping . . . filling the room with the sounds of that tearing, then casting one gift aside with a hungry drive to get to the next . . . those precious childhood Christmas mornings are just as savage and violent as the stuff of a horror story! That the beast still dwells inside some of us, and prowls unsuspected department store aisles . . . beware those that stand between me and the DC Universe Classics Batman Beyond . . .!

Christmas Horror was published by Avalon Communications in 1999 and features the talents of Mike Zeck, Joe Molloy, Joe Gill, Pat Boyette, Nicola Cutti, Jack Abel, and others.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Fourth Day of Comic-mas: The Fantastic Four Calling

Now that we know how the Punisher's Christmas went (in a word, badly), how does the rest of the Marvel Universe celebrate this merriest of holidays? Well, if the 2005 Marvel Holiday Special is any indication, they celebrate it together; after all, before any civil wars or Skrull invasions, the Marvel Universe began with a family, the Fantastic Four. Appropriately, the Storms star in two of the three tales in this issue, sandwiching a New Avengers story that boasts more heart than necessary. But every issue begins with its cover, and I just have to say . . .

Stuart Immonen offers a crisp, festive image of Spider-man and the Fantastic Four decorating a Christmas tree, the Thing hoisting it up, and Reed stretching to its top with a luminous star . . . but Johnny is garnishing the shrub with . . . flame? Uhm, most folks do their darnedest to avoid setting their trees on fire! His sister is adorning the branches with . . . invisible ornaments? Er, sure -- the next time I bring a tree home, I'm going to leave it be and tell everyone to enjoy my decor courtesy the Baxter building. Of course, Spidey is stringing up with patented web-balls (oh, grow up people), which is fine considering the source, but generally a web-covered tree isn't one you want, unless the nursery offers a pre-purchase bug extermination. So, long story short, while the illustration definitely captures the Christmas spirit, it practices very little practicality. Of course, superheroes are used to crises, so what's a scorched tree compared to, say, a city-wide Santa-napping epidemic?

Such is the plight of Marvel's first family, as the Mole Man's Moloids kidnap mall Santas around the city in an attempt to find their missing master, who uttered St. Nick's name before his sudden disappearance. While Reed, Sue, and Johnny are content tracking down the Moloids' lair for a good old fashioned Christmas clobbering, Ben embraces the spirit of the season and pursues a more civil solution. His detective work uncovers the Mole Man's grandmother, who reveals that the villain's grandfather dressed as Santa during the holidays -- a grandfather with distinctly arched, Namor-like eyebrows. The Thing recruits the sea king to help him appease the Moloids, assuring peace on earth for all above and below the earth . . . but what of Mole Man himself? The catalyst of this tale rests on a splash page gag that fell flat with me, since Christmas comics are usually throw-away one-shots anyway.

The following story, a New Avengers story, embodies the other side of that coin, as a wayward Stark Industries scientist uses an old Ultron husk to create a real-life Santa -- a Santron -- with dangerous results. Before the fight before Christmas, the Avengers banter with ongoing gags about kissing Spider-Woman under the mistletoe and refusing B-listers like Gravity their invitation to the party, then Santron comes down the chimney. Spidey and Ant-Man concoct an awesome scheme to trick the Kringle-bot into submission, and its memory banks reveal its creator -- enter the overwhelming, unnecessary holiday-infused origin, in which that Stark scientist scorns Santa's falsehood and invests her own tangible alternative. What the story took a page to explore, a single caption of emotional inner monologue would've accomplished just as effectively. Ah, well, if the holidays are about anything else, it's overindulgence.

Which explains the third story, which uses a more traditional storytelling technique, namely the rhyming scheme of a carol or nursery rhyme, to tell the same tale we'd just read two times already -- the villainous act justified by the holiday spirit, thus excused by the superheroes that made everything okay. In this case, the Fantastic Four thwart their old, presumably reformed foe the Hurricane in the midst of his stealing toys for his poor kids; again, the Thing asserts compassion, but the tale makes little effort to offer that any of the heroes actually compensated the store for the few items that caught the eye of the Hurricane. Now, that's one way to beat the Black Friday crowd: just break in to your local department store on Christmas Eve!

Of course, these criticisms are intended with as much good humor as these yarns themselves; watching our favorite superheroes celebrate the holidays humanizes these icons. Whereas we geeks fantasize what it's like to be like them, in this case we get to watch them act like us, stressed about shopping and Christmas parties, frustrated by the plights of those less fortunate, generally wishing the best tidings for all around us. If only everyone had family that could make themselves invisible from time to time . . .!

Marvel Holiday Special #7 was published for February 2006 by Marvel Comics and is by Mike Carey, Mike Perkins, Laura Martin, Dave Lanphear, Jeff Parker, Reilly Brown, Pat Davidson, Christina Strain, Shaenon Garrity, Roger Langridge, Al Gordon, and Sotocolor's J. Brown.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Third Day of Comic-mas: Three Franks Hence

The release of The Punisher Xmas Special two weeks ago and Punisher: War Zone in theaters that Friday definitely put the red back in the red and green decor of the Christmas season, and I'm just talking about all the blood spatter. Punisher: War Zone didn't even make the top five movies of the weekend, and as an opening movie, that's sadly disheartening. Now, it's become the third least grossing Marvel film, behind Howard the Duck and Elektra. I saw War Zone at its first midnight showing, which I try to do for every mainstream cinematic comic book adaptation, so my initial impression was clouded by fatigue. Awake and aware now, I confess that I really liked the flick . . . and apparently I'm in the minority.

Back up. Punisher: War Zone suffers from the recently dubbed "requel" syndrome -- it expands an established franchise without acknowledgement of, and makes a subtle effort to redo, previously established material. Batman Begins did this, The Incredible Hulk did this, and this film does, too, all with good reason. Regarding Batman and the Hulk, both characters had experienced so many different on-screen incarnations that screenwriters and directors, like Tim Burton and Ang Lee, felt little reservation for putting their own spin on their adaptations. While the result is a movie that best captures the director's style, it also becomes a dated representation of the character, like all the rest. However, the Punisher benefits from a little discontinuity between films, because he is essentially an one-dimensional character. He shoots bad guys. The end. Why have three Punisher films to date if the story is basically the same, if not to allow different directors their take at the anti-hero?

Now, I've never seen the Dolph Lundgren Punisher, but I've heard things. Personally, I had my fill of Dolph in Masters of the Universe, and my inner child, as disappointed as even he was in that movie, can't accept He-Man playing Frank Castle. So, the Thomas Jane vehicle of a few years ago was my first on-screen Punisher, and, while I wasn't disappointed, I did find a few fanboy-nagging flaws with the film. I was grateful for the mining of Garth Ennis' Welcome Back, Frank, but I couldn't swallow the tropical Florida setting. Also, Jane's Punisher suffered from B-list actor syndrome -- when a better established actor is cast as the villain. (Nicholson's Joker is the classic example; on the 1989 Batman movie posters, his name trumps Keaton's, and Keaton is the hero, the title character!) While we see familiar faces like the Russian and Spacker Dave, they take a backseat to the Punisher's foe, whose familiar face is, well, John Travolta, which disconnected me from the film every time he appeared on screen. Finally, the Punisher uses a bow and arrow. I know his arsenal is extensive, but when that shot was one of the movie's first promo stills, I was ill at ease. Call me shallow.

Enter Punisher: War Zone, which I think became a requel when Jane pulled out of the project, and all the better at least for my little qualms with its predecessor. In this incarnations, we're spared the origin story and instead see the Castles' killings via flashback -- thankfully, in Central Park where it belongs. Yes, welcome back, Frank, indeed . . . to New York, to supporting characters like Microchip and Detective Soap, to a familiar nemesis like Jigsaw. Sure, the violence was campy, but I don't know why fans of films like From Dust 'Til Dawn wouldn't dig it. Sure, Dominic West's performance was over the top (the best comparison I read on a message board likened West's Jigsaw to Tommy Lee Jones' Two-Face), but the things he says are comparable with any funnybook foe on a vengeful tirade. I'm truly perplexed why War Zone didn't have a similar opening weekend to the likes of Daredevil or Ghost Rider? While all Marvel movies are not equal in quality and storytelling ability, aren't all Marvel fans at least willing to give them an equal chance?

Of course, the most beloved incarnation of Frank Castle remains in his native comics, yet even that original Punisher has experienced experimentation for popularity's sake. Remember when Punny died and came back as a spirit of vengeance? Consider Hollywood's challenge, sifting through decades' worth of material to create ninety minutes that both consolidate the character's essence for longtime fans yet capture a new audience with a fresh appeal, too. I can imagine a similar challenge for the one writing Punisher's annual Christmas special, since the holiday one-shot appeals to holiday-spirited fanboys like me, vaguely familiar with Castle's roots, along with those regular readers. At this point, I suppose the Punisher Max Xmas Special has been categorically more successful than the film that followed. By way of body count, Frank is the gift that keeps on giving.

I actually anticipated the Punisher Max Xmas Special some weeks ago when I saw preview pages up at Comic Book Resources. Roland Boschi's art is gritty and energetic, and when I read the story's synopsis, I had high hopes for its potential for allegory. My wishes were fulfilled, as Punisher strives to deliver a baby in the crosshairs of a gang war, in a Herod-like attempt to eradicate the son of a premiere crime family. Of course the Punisher takes the expectant parents to a manger (in a race track, but still), where, despite (or because of) the birth of their innocent baby, they get their just desserts, too. It's a fast-paced tale rife with violence and holiday symbolism -- in other words, it's the most wonderful time of the year.

Not so much for Marvel cinema. MSN has an article about the future of comic book adaptations, and whether or not the future is bright. Please. The Punisher has killed a lot of things, but comic book film adaptations aren't one of them -- in any incarnation.

Punisher MAX Christmas Special was published by Marvel Comics for February 2009 and was written by Jason Aaron, illustrated by Roland Boschi, colored by Daniel Brown, and lettered by VC's Cory Petit.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Second Day of Comic-mas: Two Turtles’ Woes

By 1990, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles easily usurped the Masters of the Universe as my action figure line of choice. As toy packages often demand, I scrambled to “collect them all!” Christmas was a pivotal time of year to achieve this goal, as long as my parents and grandparents understood where to find a “Mutagen Man.” Of course, fellow fanboys recognize the early ‘90s as the Golden Age of TMNT mania, with the live action film, beloved cartoon series, and all avenues of franchising thrusting our heroes out of their shell and into America’s hearts. To think, it all started as an independent comic book . . .

This detail from 1991's Marvel Holiday Special (soon to be reviewed right here!) satirizes the Turtles' popularity at the time.

Flipping through Mirage Studios’ Michelangelo Christmas Special, I’m amazed that Eastman and Laird retained their series’ original look, when I’m sure they could’ve easily sold out and gone mainstream with the most premiere publishing trends of the day. The beginnings of computerized lettering and coloring, higher-end paper stock and cover gimmicks -- these were all at their disposal, but instead this issue, published in ’90 and at a time of years when parents and kids alike are Ninja Turtle fishing, is so meek, it’s almost beneath notice! A minimalist exterior, and all gray-tone interiors . . . You know, for their own safety, the Turtles lived underground, out of sight. Did Eastman and Laird hope to preserve their original creative process by producing comics the same way?

Ironically, in this issue, Michelangelo dons a civilian costume, blends in with the hustling and bustling of the shopping Christmas crowd, and enjoys a day above ground, where he adopts a stray cat and indulges himself in a toy store. Of course, he discovers a ring of toy thieves that has intercepted a truck intended for the local orphanage, so Mickey and his brothers eventually make sure the “Li’l Orphan Alien” dolls make their way to the kids, at the risk of their own exposure. It’s a fun, heart-warming tale with plenty of action, that, in the context of the Turtles’ own popularity as coveted toys, boasts a satirical subtlety, whether or not overtly intentional by its authors.

The back-up yarn starring my favorite Turtle, Raphael, is a bit more baffling, however. Like many other Christmas comics, writer/artist Jim Lawson (second only to Eastman and Laird as the definitive Turtles storyteller) adapts Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” for one of our heroes, revealing a plethora of proverbial “elseworlds” that result from his outlook on the holidays, and, really, on life. As anticipated, Raph isn’t one for Christmas, he decides to ditch decorating the tree at April’s, and three imposing spirits take him on a walk through time. The first ghost takes Raph (and the readers) to the first Turtles’ tale, when the Foot crashed April’s antique store and nearly killed Leonardo. The second spirit reveals that the guys have resigned to their embittered brother’s disappearances, and the Ghost of Christmas Future prophesizes a bestial Raph living alone in a swamp. Interestingly, in the end, Raphael doesn’t join his brothers merrily, but remains alone in thought -- as if the lesson took but didn’t really persuade. Those shells sure are thick!

What I didn’t like about this tale is how rushed it felt. Lawson told the bare minimum to make “The Christmas Carol” connection, but with thirteen pages, his page layout and the story’s pacing seemed cramped and rushed, respectively. Remember, Raphael is my favorite of the foursome, so maybe I’d just hoped to see more of him. Yet, considering his character is the most dynamic in contrast to the generally joyful holiday season, he offers more of a conflict to explore. I’m sure the eighteen years between this issue and today’s Turtles have explored this dynamic more, if I wasn’t so distracted by toys and movies to actually read the half-shell heroes’ comics!

On the subject of toys, I would like to take this opportunity to talk about some of my Christmas indulgences, especially in light of some recent developments in the action figure collecting community. First of all, the Masters of the Universe franchise is in the midst of its second renaissance in the last ten years; back in 2000, Mattel, with the help of accomplished sculptors the Four Horsemen, modernized He-Man, Skeletor, and Eternia’s supporting cast in the hopes of appealing to old and new fans alike. Unfortunately, despite an engrossing new animated series on Cartoon Network, the toys suffered from the trapping of collectability, with mismatched ratio distributions (i.e. one Mer-Man for every five Skeletors, or something like that) and overwhelming variant editions. Kids were turned off and adult fans were broke and embittered pretty quickly -- especially if you’re still an Evil-Lynn away from completion, like me. Also, while these updated character designs looked great, I thought the figures themselves lacked a certain “playability” in contrast to other, better articulated lines. So, in its sophomore effort, the Masters failed to master their market.

Now, Mattel has decided that the adult collector has the power and has developed an exclusive on-line community featuring better articulated, finely sculpted incarnations of the classic line -- much to my complete delight. I’ve already scored this month’s inaugural He-Man and Beast-Man offerings, with a new figure promised monthly. (A special thanks to my brother for monitoring the Internet the instant the figures became available! I had to work, which goes to show that the responsibilities of adulthood too often trump the persistent delights of youth.) Now, the question is, do I open these figures and play with them, or keep them in their packages to display? I could just as easily open and display them, but if I never touch them, engage them in interactive adventure . . . What’s the point?

I wouldn’t have guessed it, but I’ve recently read some criticism about this direction, that on-line sales threaten to prohibit the line’s success, that reverting to the classic design is a step backward. I’m going on the record here and begging to differ -- Mattel has finally found He-Man’s post ‘80s niche. Simply put, kids aren’t interested in barbarians with ray guns anymore. Consider the more popular franchises of today’s youth -- Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, World of Warcraft. In these worlds, the heroes are passive participants, calling upon other creatures and weaponry to save the day for them. Children can relate to this inability to fight the good fight themselves, and by playing the games affiliated with these new mythologies, become as active in the lore as the very protagonists therein. So, if He-Man is to succeed today, the kids that originally sought him are still his core audience, just grown up into “exclusive collectors.” Now, we have the power!

My pic of the Masters of the Universe Classics He-Man prototype at 2007 San Diego Comic Con.

Yet, He-Man isn’t the only toy-based controversy that has been dancing in my head this holiday season. The latest Justice League Unlimited action figure six-packs are on sale at Target this week, and on Sunday I scoured four local branches for the “Secret Society,” “Apokalips Now,” and “Legends of the League” sets. I found them, but not before I found their boxes -- packed with other figures. Interestingly, the most coveted figures were replaced with previously available ones, with similar features, to boot; for example, the Atomic Skull was replaced with Waverider, who also boasts a translucent flaming head. KGBeast was replaced with the Elongated Man, both of whom have arm accessories. Fortunately, I was keen enough not to buy figures I already own, but the potential origins for this mishap are disturbing. Either collectors are purchasing these sets, pulling the new figures and replacing them with common extras, then returning the sets to Target for their money back, or Mattel is deliberating mis-packaging these boxes to make the new figures more collectible. Either thought is despicable to a simple fan like me, merely interested in having one of every available character. How many sharp kids will be disappointed this Christmas when parents buy the “Secret Society” pack they asked for -- and find a Copperhead where Shadow Thief should be?

Finally, the release of that “Apokalips Now” pack, specifically its inclusion of the character Mantis, has encouraged me to embrace the whims of my inner child and find contemporary counterparts to the action figures I had as a kid. The latest Masters of the Universe line helps, but I also had scattered DC Super Powers and Marvel Secret Wars figures purchased by my folks. Core characters like the Justice League and the Avengers are easy to come by, but baddies like Mantis or Kang are a bit more obscure. Fortunately, Hasbro’s latest Marvel Legends line includes a Kang, so I’m just a modern Magneto short of achieving a renewed version of my childhood collection.

What’s the point, you ask? What’s the point of indulging in comics in the first place? Originally targeting a younger audience, as much as the medium has grown up with its readership, its roots in fantasy and science fiction still appeals to the child in all of us. After all, childhood is in essence the journey to adulthood, the road to becoming something bigger than we already are. Superhero comics replace that need for adults -- having achieved the whole growing up thing -- the need to become something better. Like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles dwelling in the sewers, sometimes the inner child like to dress up like a man and come out to play for awhile. I’ve learned not to toy with his emotions.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The First Day of Comic-mas: A Dragon in a Pair o' Bandages

Most contemporary Christmas stories pivot around one or more of three well-established dynamics: (1.) exploring Santa Claus mythology, (2.) converting an anti-Christmas rascal, and (3.) saving Christmas itself from impending doom. Consider Fred Claus, the latest Vince Vaughn opus released on DVD. Regarding Santa lore, Fred Claus answers the heretofore unasked question, "What if Santa Claus had a brother?" Variations of this inquiry common in contemporary storytelling include, "What if Santa Claus had a child," "What if Santa Claus needed a successor," and "What if Santa Claus was institutionalized for claiming he was, well, Santa Claus?" Further, Kevin Spacey plays an efficiency expert determined to end Christmas -- like the Grinch that tried to steal it, or the Scrooge that tried to ignore it. I don't envy Christmas its rogues gallery. Fortunately, in Fred Claus' case, an ailing Santa still fulfills Spacey's childhood wish (which is, ironically, a Superman cape) and fills him with the Christmas spirit . . . and not a moment too soon, as Spacey's plans to halt the holiday are nearly fulfilled, if not for a last minute miracle.

Sound familiar? That's what I mean. Every secular Christmas story retains at least one of those characteristics. Heck, if it didn't, audiences would be reduced to watching happy people celebrate a peaceful holiday. We can't have that, can we?

Christmas comic books are no exception to these rules. In fact, the comic book, a medium dependent on visual iconography and conflict-driven storytelling, is the perfect forum for a contemporary Christmas story. (I've mentioned this before.) The comparisons are palpable -- Christmas has its make-believe heroes, complete with magical origins and supernatural abilities, determined to deliver good will to the world. That Santa delivers toys and doesn't battle mad scientists is just a footnote. Rudolph's red nose is just a turn on the color wheel from being a magic green ring.

So, for the next twelve reviews, I'm going to take a look at some of these comics and see how they hold up to tradition and expectation. In true A Comic A Day fashion, I've never read these comic books before; like a child on Christmas morning, I really don't know what to expect.

Which is why I've decided to begin, like everything else in my comic book collecting career, with Erik Larsen, with his beloved Savage Dragon. Contrary to what my blog might lead you to believe, I haven't read every issue of Savage Dragon; in fact, I have a few significant holes in my Dragon collection. Sometimes, at three bucks a pop, one just has to discriminate when staring at the new release shelf week after week. Also, despite my love for his work, I've acknowledged, like many fans, that Larsen's work has been inconsistent in recent years, thanks in large part to his role as publisher for Image Comics. Fortunately, this holiday issue of Savage Dragon predates that erratic work and reflects the best of post issue #100 Dragon -- featuring Dragon and his family battling Chicago's freakish underground. Specifically, in this issue, Dragon's former fellow cop Rita is missing; coincidentally, Santa has disappeared, too, and some of his elves have offered their services on the hunt for Rita if the finned-one can save Christmas. While practice-flying the sleigh, the villainous, jet-sled riding Seeker arrives, and as Dragon defeats him, his friends find Rita and finish off her captors. It's a happy ending, albeit a bit typical for Dragon, what with both of his hands blown off.

Don't worry. They'll grow back.

That's the thing about Savage Dragon -- the outrageous is totally normal, and with Larsen's recent foray into cutting edge Presidential politics, in every way, from Rita's long-standing struggle with side effects from a Martian shrinking ray, to Barack Obama congratulating Dragon on his return to the police force. Interestingly, Larsen doesn't actually show Santa in this issue (browse through some Dragon back issues for the only Santa appearance that suits the series), and in fact Saint Nick's abduction is reduced to a fleeting, tongue-in-cheek caption on the last page, but this dismissive tone is satirical to the very point I posed in the beginning. When Santa's helper first appeared, Dragon expressed his disbelief. Then, with Christmas in peril, the reader gets a sneak peak at the North Pole, a glimpse at how some of "the magic" works. Then, finally, Christmas is saved.

Sound familiar?

I confess, I haven't seen A Miracle on 34th Street in its entirety. I haven't read A Christmas Carol. But I remember that time the gray Hulk battled Rhino as a mall Santa Claus. I remember when a Scarecrow-gas victim dressed as Santa and went on a killing spree in Gotham City just for the fun of it. I remember the first episode of The Simpsons, and every Christmas episode since. While literature and film have established the traditions of holiday storytelling, one need not indulge them considering the strength of the Christmas spirit. From Ebenezer Scrooge to the Savage Dragon . . . the essence of selflessness is the gift that keeps on giving.

Savage Dragon #106 was published in December 2002 and is by Erik Larsen, with lettering by Chris Eliopoulos and coloring by Reuben Rude.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Of Neglected Traditions: Comics Starring Native American Heroes & Thanksgiving

I feel sorry for Thanksgiving. Wedged between the tummy-ache aftermath of Halloween and the hustle-bustle of Christmas, Thanksgiving has been reduced to a holiday footnote -- its decorations barely worthy of an entire aisle at department stores, its celebration diminished by headlines about Black Friday. It's definitely the most structured of the holidays, for those that follow its established traditions: parade, football game, meal, nap. That's Thanksgiving, in a nutshell, sans the obligatory turkey, pilgrim, and Indian arts and crafts, which have become the unfortunate target of political correctness.

Well, A Comic A Day isn't going to let this wayward holiday go down without a fight! After all, beneath its harvest hues and garnished gluttony, Thanksgiving is really about the battle between what one has and what one wants. So what if the pilgrims made nice for dinner? We're still into the business of acquisition -- if, hundreds of years later, the lines outside of Best Buy haven't taught us anything else. That's the Mayflower of the 21st century!

So, in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I read three comic books starring Indian, a.k.a. Native American, protagonists. When one lists the different genres of comics, the "Indian protagonist" category is often lost to the western, or in some extreme cases sci-fi/fantasy, so I was genuinely curious to see if these issues, from three different publishers to boot, offered some legitimacy to this native niche. (More pointedly, when did "pilgrims vs. Indians" become "cowboys vs. Indians?") Here are the issues I read, with brief descriptions:

Showcase #87 (DC Comics, December 1969): I liked this issue right away, because its featured character, Firehair, is a red-headed Indian. Also, Joe Kubert's definitive style made this supernatural adventure all the more vivid, as Firehair is injured in a tussle with a Grand Canyon cougar and stumbles into a voodoo shaman's camp, where the mystic puts our wayward hero through some rather incredible paces, including a showdown with the very beast that "holds the world!" In the end, Firehair awakens and discovers that his terrible trial was just a fever dream, that the shaman and his people have been working tirelessly to nurse him back to health. Right . . .?

Shaman's Tears #1 (Image Comics, May 1993): I've read and reviewed Shaman's Tears #2, so I was eager to its prequel, to see how this series began. In this inaugural issue, Josh, the prodigal son of his tribe, returns home just in time to hear his mother's dying wish, that he fulfill his role as their people's "chosen one." As Josh endures a ritual that attunes his soul with the Earth, an organization dubbed Circle Sea Enterprises begins its legal battle to retain the rights to produce human/animal hybrids, presumably for military application. Thus, in both a scientific and spiritual sense, a connection and reliance upon the animal kingdom pervades this issue and promises a confrontation of food chain-climbing proportions!

Turok, Dinosaur Hunter #0 (Valiant Comics, November 1995): Following the "zero issue" trend of the early '90s, this installment with a concise synopsis of Turok's origins, including all of the significant Valiant crossovers up 'til then, too. Apparently, Turok, a strong teacher crossbred between two tribes, wandered into a mystical land of dinosaurs one day, where his protege married a jungle woman and many other Valiant heroes periodically ended up as different evil forces sought to capture the dimension's power. Turok eventually destroyed the land to prevent its power from falling into the wrong hands, and all of its inhabitants except him ended up in their respective eras. Now, in present day, Turok continues the traditions of his people, seasoned by the lessons he's learned from battle.

So, what do these issues have in common? I discovered two significant, prevalent themes amongst these three decidedly different issues:

1. Each issue boasts a tradition vs. progression diatribe, specifically between two characters that epitomize either side of the conflict. Firehair versus the Shaman. Josh versus his mother. Turok versus his apprentice. Interestingly, Turok is the only hero among these title characters that prefers "the old ways," but that his moniker is "dinosaur hunter" implies an inevitable sense of impending extinction, undoubtedly unintended by his creators. Still, this dichotomy makes for an interesting subplot, brewing beneath the surface of each series' main conflict and promising a simmering development of character dynamic. The real question is, can tradition and progression ever meet in the middle? Surely, one issue from these characters' multitude of adventures isn't enough to answer that, for them or us.

2. Similarly, each issue contains a definitive element of the supernatural, often contrasted by science, as if Native American culture is a source or beacon for all earthen spiritual phenomena. Firehair's trials, while eventually revealed as a fever dreams, are nevertheless presented with the expectation that readers will accept voodoo as a part of Indian culture. Shaman's Tears presents this contrast most decisively, adapting one's quest for an anthropomorphic spirit guide into freak hybrid genetics. While Turok's dinosaur land has unexplained origins (and reminded me of the recent IDW one-shot Lost and Found), the arrival of technology-based militant forces exposed its mystical context and was strangely reminiscent of the Nazi magic mythology of World War II. Are we really supposed to believe that Native Americans are this naturally transcendent? Further, is that the only basis for creating Indian-centric graphic fiction, as if they have nothing else to offer the comic book landscape?

Perhaps the two consistencies are tied together by their battle for identity. While the easy go-to for Indian-centric stories is their inherent spirituality, the juvenile voices of opposing progression might reflect the authors' need to find more -- to delve into the depths of their characters' more human side.

Now there's something to chew on this Thanksgiving. Really, before anyone claims political incorrectness or offense in the face of stereotypical Indian imagery, they should make an effort to understand the culture they've decided to "protect." Fire, tears, and dinosaurs . . . if these images are in any way analogous to Native American culture, these comic books might actually be a start. I'm always thankful when comics do more than simply entertain!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Take a Hard Look at Yourself: Hardware #8

"Dead men."

"Rising from their graves."

"Trying to drag me down."

Are these the first three captions of Hardware #8, or President Elect Barack Obama's first thoughts every morning since Wednesday, November 5? After all, every President has had to face the ghosts of the presidency's past, and in these months of transition between George W. Bush's and Barack Obama's terms in office, who knows how many skeletons the good Senator from Illinois has found in the closets of the White House?

Well, the Internet is full of blogs ready and willing to unearth those specters. Actually, it's full of blogs that review comic books, too . . . Anyway, yes, those three captions kick off a haunted issue of Hardware, the inevitable Milestone book I've decided to review in the context of preparing for Obama's anticipated presidency. If Tom Strong taught us about the vulnerability of our reality, and the Seekers showed us subtlety of spirituality, what insight can Hardware offer about black men in positions of power? Simply put, it's like I said . . .

They're haunted.

I've never read Hardware before; in fact, my experience in the Milestone Universe is limited to some select issues of Static Shock and Icon. Near as I can tell, Hardware is a black Iron Man, plain and simple. Brilliant inventor . . . armored alter-ego . . . it's all there on the first page's obligatory origin blurb. This issue, a transition between storylines, I assume, as it seems both tethered to the character's established baggage yet approachable for new readers like me, explores the demons that come with such genius, an aspect of the "self-made armored hero" paradigm firmly established in the mainstream by last summer's blockbuster Iron Man flick. "Woe is me for not using my inventive intellect for good instead of apathy-that-has-led-to-evil sooner! I'll spend the rest of my career in repentance!" The most tender moments in Iron Man, and this entire issue of Hardware -- in a single sentence. No wonder Hollywood never calls.

Seriously, though, writer Dwayne McDuffie uses these twenty-two pages to do what he does best: tell a compelling character-driven story, laced with plenty of societal commentary and action. In Hardware #8, the title character faces the ghosts of his past, from the victims of his superheroic adventures, to the family he forsook to become an inventor, to his mentor-turned-nemesis, to his lost love, to . . . himself. Every episodic encounter boasts a similar theme -- Wake up! -- which, while initially interpreted as a call to integrity, becomes the literal solution when Hardware awakes and realizes the misadventure was a nightmare. McDuffie definitely seizes this opportunity to pull aside the veil on Hardware's inspirations, citing the traditional African trickster tale as the proverbial outline for his armored hero's literary basis. While some might consider this a writer's faux pas, I perceive the move as shedding light on what is to pave the way for what's to come. In the end, Hardware muses, "I can't make up for what I've done. But I can live up to my ideals from now on. I can do better." In other words, some skeletons are best dragged out of the closet so they can finally be buried.

The Obama connection is obvious. First of all, any man, white, black, or green (that's if he's choking at an ambassador's dinner table or something), must face the legacy of his leadership before tackling the role as his own. From the department store manager that inherits a part-time team he didn't hire to the CEO of a corporation facing the realities of America's capitalism and economy, any and every position of authority is burdened some degree of context and challenge that demands sacrifice to be overcome. In the case of the presidency, the concept of collateral damage ranges from firing federal employees to the loss of human life on the battlefield, both of which are ironically equally criticized. How many nightmares will Obama suffer his first year in office? Will they look anything like McDuffie's analysis in Hardware #8?

The comic book medium isn't without similar ghosts. I mentioned McDuffie's "Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers" pitch a few posts ago -- which is a hilariously biting treatise for Marvel Comics' penchant for jive-talking, skateboarding, young black superheroes. His Milestone line (slated to return to DC continuity soon enough) is essentially the fulfillment of that brief in-office satire, establishing a canon of black heroes with a wide range of nobility and strife -- everything that makes for a fun superhero story. He took his own advice and decided to do better. That's all anybody can do, face to face with the past. The key is one's capacity for honest introspection . . . and I don't think that's something one can learn. The ability to examine oneself . . . should come with one's hardware.

Hardware #8 was published by DC Comics and Milestone Media in October 1993 and was written by Dwayne McDuffie, illustrated by J.J. Birch and Jason Minor, colored by Noelle Giddings, and edited by Steve Dutro.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Seek, and Ye Shall Find: The Seekers #1

Continuing my feeble exercise to explore black comic book heroes in an attempt to understand the idolism around Senator Barack Obama's approaching presidency, I dug up my unread copy of The Seekers #1, acquired for a quarter at Frank & Sons. Judging this issue by its cover (not recommended), The Seekers is a series deliberately targeting black youth, not unlike a title from DC's Milestone Comics, right down to the obligatory skateboard. (If you haven't read Dwayne McDuffie's poignant pitch for Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers, you can find it at this installment of Comic Book Resources' "Comics Should Be Good.") It even features art from Shawn Martinbrough, a Milestone alumnus whose work I first encountered and appreciated in Detective Comics a few years ago. Alas, I'm saving a legitimate Milestone issue for a near-future review, and, besides, The Seekers has a different target audience in mind.

The Seekers is a . . . gulp . . . religious comic book!

A Comic A Day has only touched the surface of religion in comics, from the comically devout modernization to the harsh, preachy condemnation. Thankfully, The Seekers establishes a third, more likable category: the fun, Bible-driven misadventure. Actually, the cartoon series Superbook and The Flying House really established the fun, Bible-driven misadventure, but The Seekers adapts the concept for a new, definitively more urban generation. In this issue, Jesse discovers an iPod that transports its user to different periods of time. Stashed in Jesse's church by its desperate inventor, the iPod is sought by community icon Steven Dark, a suspicious, sometimes ominously red-eyed man in cahoots with an errand raven. When Jesse's new friend, the issue's token white kid named Brooklyn, needs to research the Revolutionary War, they select a song by Paul Revere and the Raiders to experience the era personally, but when Jesse returns to his bedroom, Brooklyn doesn't. To be continued indeed.

The Seekers is published by Urban Ministries, Inc., a company that describes itself as an African-American Christian publisher, and is just one of four titles in their Guardian Line imprint. Although this issue is laced with overtly religious advertisements, its content is the furthest from preachy a supposedly Christian comic can get, and honestly I rather enjoyed the story, told boldly through Martinbrough's broad, expressive brushstroke. The tale's overarching mythology retains a bit of obligatory spirituality, considering that keepers of the iPod are called seekers and that the kids' first journey takes them to 10 B.C. Galilee, but sugar-coating the message by actually utilizing the comic book medium to its fullest potential makes the pill go down that much easier.

So, what's the Obama connection? Well, you don’t need me to tell you that religion was a critical component of this year’s Presidential election. Speculation about Senator Obama's religious affiliation ran from ardent analysis to conspiratorial craziness, culminating in a statement by Colin Powell that seemed to hush up anyone duly concerned. To paraphrase, Powell said, Senator Obama is not a Muslim, but if he were, so what? Indeed, as if the racial undertones weren’t enough . . .! On a surface level, Powell's inquiry is applicable in any instance of discrimination; for example, recent headlines report that a batch of retired generals are condemned the military’s old "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Basically, they're asking, if some soldiers are gay, so what? In the context of this review, here’s a Christian comic book. So what? A Muslim might make a great President, a gay guy or gal might make a great solider, and a Christian comic might make for a great read.

Of course, while a comic book comes and goes in twenty-two pages and is relatively immaterial in the grand scheme, a President has four long years to mess everything up. Gulp.

On a more spiritual level, The Seekers tells an entertaining story with a religious context, proving that religion can be present without being overbearing. That Jesse finds the iPod in a church, and that his first trip back in time reflects a Biblical account of world history, is almost more writer's prerogative than publisher's mission statement, at least in this single issue. And, yes, I do want to read #2, if I ever find it, which goes to show just how effective good storytelling is in comparison to preachy editorializing. Besides, considering that the iPod time-travels based on definitively secular bands or song titles, these spiritual matters seem grounded enough in the real world to remain entertaining despite the potential for a sappy moral. Further, that the browsing button on mp3 players is commonly called the "seek" button is a pun that hasn’t escaped me here, especially with the rewind and fast forward symbols affixed in The Seekers logo. We're all seeking something sometime, even if it’s just a song by Genesis. That's as spiritual as Phil Collins gets!

In regards to the Presidency, very few Presidents have actually asserted their religion (specifically, their particular faction of Christianity, at least thus far!), with the exception of the occasional comforting Bible verse in the midst of tragedy, which seems acceptable enough in our politically correct society. Then again, if you're looking for something to offend you -- seek, and ye shall most definitely find.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What Could Have Been: Tom Strong #20

What a difference a week makes.

Last Monday, skeptical Americans, on the brink of an undoubtedly historical Presidential election, wondered about the fate of their country. A week later, Americans either celebrating a victory or lamenting a loss can still be proud that their nation has made a giant step forward in abolishing its reputation for racism, perhaps setting a standard for the rest of the world. That's how I see it, anyway.

The question is, did Barack Obama win because of the Dragon bump? Pundits will argue that one for the next four years, I'm sure . . .

To acknowledge America's celebration of change, I decided to read a few of the comic books in my stable of unread issues that star black protagonists -- a theme I've traditionally utilized in February for Black History Month, but black history has been made this month, so the obligatory wait would be a disservice. My hope in these next few reviews is to find some parallels between the black heroes of comics and our President Elect, who has become a real life hero to many, many people (and who has now starred in a few comics of his own!). Leave it to Alan Moore to kick off the concept with practically prophetic results.

When the Comic Bookie closed last month, I was delighted to find several issues of Tom Strong in the fifty cent bins. Tom Strong remains one of those series I regret not buying monthly, yet also remains a guilty pleasure when I flip through discounted back issue boxes, as it isn't foremost on my mind but always climbs the must-buy list when I find a cheap issue. With all the publicity surrounding the release of The Watchmen movie, Moore's other works are likely to take a backseat in these coming months, until of course each of them are optioned for film production, too. I dare say that Tom Strong is one of the writer's most ambitious works, though, with thirty-six issues spanning eight years (the longest Moore has been associated with any one character or story, with the exception of Swamp Thing, unless someone can cite another example). Reflecting, sometimes satirizing, the science fiction pulp of the '50s, Tom Strong also combines strands from almost every other significant comic book genre, as well (western, romance, horror . . . it's all in there, sometimes in a single issue!), utilizing flashback sequences and/or chapter breaks liberally yet with reverence. Again, why I still haven't read every issue is beyond me.

Tom's origin is perhaps the most interesting contribution to the entire series, however, as Moore successfully tells a complex, engaging origin story with striking originality. When scientist Sinclair Strong and his wife Susan are shipwrecked on a deserted island, Strong makes the best of it by building a laboratory where he and his wife raise their son in a high-gravity chamber, educating him and nourishing him with an indigenous root, goloka, in a culminating effort to perfect his mind and body. When a volcanic eruption destroys the lab and kills Tom's parents, Tom finds comfort in the local, hidden tribe, and he takes a bride who eventually joins him on a journey back to Millennium City, where he becomes a science hero. Of course, fans know there are many more critical intricacies to this story, but these are the nuts and bolts necessary to understand issue #20.

See, in issue #20, Tom encounters a visitor from an alternate timeline, one where his origins are vastly different. Apparently, when one of Susan's pre-Sinclair suitors gives her an element capable of dividing time, she does just that, creating a history that prematurely kills Strong and strands her on the island with Tomas Stone, their ship's Jamaican (?) captain. When Tom Stone is born, he attains the same longevity and strength from the island's beloved goloka and learns vicariously through Sinclair's stranded books, essentially becoming the same man from the original timestream, but with darker skin. In Millennium City, this alienation actually builds a bridge of camaraderie with the one that would become his mad scientist arch nemesis, and together they become a force for good. However, Susan soon discovers the timeline's split, and . . . ha, to be continued. Surely a tale with such chronological consequence couldn't be told in a single issue, eh!

So, what does all of this have to do with Barack Obama? Well, Moore pens a prolific line that reminded me of the Illinois Senator's recent accomplishments. When Tom's mother sees how beloved her son is in Millennium City, she muses, "And everyone's so friendly to colored people now. You must have educated them, son." The implication stands, that the positive impact of a single individual with a high enough profile could redirect the perspective toward an entire group of people. Racism certainly isn't over, in either our reality or Strong's alternate history I'm sure, but racists can at least tangibly grasp that they're in the minority, that they're in the wake of something much more progressive than their rooted and anchored beliefs. Thankfully, we didn't need a skewered timeline to teach us that.

Yet, this catalyst in Tom Strong #20 is what appealed to me most of all. A week ago, Americans were like-minded in their contemplation of another reality, one in which their candidate of choice didn't win -- an Earth-2, if you will. How exciting is it that those that aren't into comics or science fiction can understand the Doc Brown concept of an alternate timeline? In this other world, how many of your friends really moved to Canada when McCain-2 won the election? How did his spending freeze affect the economy-2? Most interestingly, how soon did Palin-2 take the White House, if at all? I'm hoping to discover some traits in black comic book heroes that reflect our reality now, the one with Barack Obama poised as America's President, but Alan Moore turns racism on its ear a bit and shows us that sometimes the color of one's skin does matter, just enough.

Tom Strong #20 was published by America's Best Comics in June 2003 and was written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Jerry Ordway and Karl Story, colored by Dave Stewart, lettered by Todd Klein, and edited by Kristy Quinn and Scott Dunbier.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Ghostbusters, Then & Now: Ghostbusters: The Other Side #1

On Friday, I saw a human-sized chicken practicing its trumpet outside of the local high school. A cave woman stood behind me in line at Starbucks. My girlfriend saw a Jedi walk into a Hollywood Denny's. This is Halloween, when the line between fantasy and reality gets blurred just enough to permit such frivolity without fear of consequence . . . and I love it. Batman -- heck, a legion of Batmen, as if from the various folds of Hypertime -- is as common a sight as Spongebob Squarepants, in a crossover that demands no cry for copyright infringement or corporate credit. It's the inner child unleashed, and it's the closest we get to a dimensional rift between this world and the ones we've created in cartoons, comic books, and movies over the years. So, IDW's new Ghostbusters comic book, undoubtedly released in October to coincide with Halloween, is appropriately titled "The Other Side." Leave it to those poltergeist pulverizers to so aptly direct and reflect trends in pop culture yet again.

Coincidentally, the Ghostbusters had become a big part of my Halloween celebration this year before I even knew of Ghostbusters: The Other Side. A local movie theater hosted a special screening of Ghostbusters earlier in the month, and I dragged my girlfriend and old Slimer toy along to partake in that beloved slice of my childhood. Fortunately, apparently I wasn't the only kid that watched and rewatched his Ghostbusters VHS, running my VCR remote's tracking buttons rampant after some one hundred viewings or so, and when Ray hushes Egon and Peter in the opening library scene with, "Listen! You smell something?" I was delighted to join dozens of others in knowing laughter. At the time, I bet Ghostbusters struck unsuspecting audiences as just another flick starring those guys from Saturday Night Live. Who would've suspected that those wry 105 minutes would've inspired an franchise that has included a few cartoon series, a long line of toys, and several comic book series?

Inspired by seeing "the guys" on the big screen (well, the screening was actually projected onto the back of a building, but you know what I mean), I dug up some old Ghostbusters comics I'd purchased a few months ago at the Los Angeles Comic Book and Sci-Fi Convention. Published by Now Comics, these issues reflect the continuity and likenesses of The Real Ghostbusters animated series, which boasts a strong argument for vetoing the films and adopting the "official" image of the franchise. After all, that cartoon series and subsequent toy line recruited kids in a way the original movie never could have, contributing to the success of Ghostbusters 2. (I remember thinking as a kid, Winston shaved his mustache for the sequel to look more like his cartoon counterpart.) Multi-colored jumpsuits and a blond Egon are mere aesthetics when compared to the way these cartoon and comic book series cemented the characters' respective personalities and made Slimer a household name. I rest my case, for now.

So, when I saw the cover to Now Comics' The Real Ghostbusters #13, I was excited to read the issue because it featured Bigfoot, a supernatural creature that has been striding through comics quite a bit lately (different interpretations of Sasquatch currently star in The Perhapnauts and Proof, and those are the comics off the top of my head). Neither a ghost or a fully evolved human being, I wondered how the Ghostbusters would capture such a creature; unfortunately, the story was more heart than attack, as the guys venture to reunite two lovesick lemures (a cousin to the Bigfoot, I guess) before a weather-controlling ghost uses the female's connection to the climate against mankind. The plot was compelling enough, and the art was great, but the issue wasn't comprehensive to the Ghostbusters mythos to warrant a Halloween review for me. Like the lemure, the issue I wanted to read had big shoes to fill.

Enter Now Comics' The Real Ghostbusters #25. I'm something of a numerology nerd regarding my comics, so I thought #13 would be a good Halloween-oriented issue. Of course, it was more a stroke of bad luck in contrast to my intentions, so I tried #25, as this year commemorates the original film's twenty-five year anniversary. I had to mull it over, but I was much more satisfied with the result. In this issue, the Ghostbusters are recruited by the government to rescue some soldiers trapped in another, spectre-ridden dimension, and in the process they discover a hidden history that exposes atomic tests as the cause of such interdimensional rifts. The Gozer "dogs" from Ghostbusters make a cameo appearance, albeit as robots intended to test the guys' skills, and in the end Egon thwarts the dimensional denizens by touting the Ghostbusters' rep rather than let 'er rip with the proton packs, which is almost as satisfying. Still all-ages friendly, this story's anti-government implications retain a definitely adult aspect that made this issue enjoyable to a longtime fan like me, particularly considering the Ghostbusters' trend for spitting in the face of nonprofit environmental agencies or using national monuments as battering rams.

So, I was totally ready to write up that review when I happened to see another review at Comic Book Resources, this one of a comic called Ghostbusters: The Other Side. I had no idea that IDW had commandeered the franchise from 88 MPH, who had published a Ghostbusters miniseries a few years ago that I had an incredibly hard time finding. Still, excited for a new adventure, I rushed to my comic book store yesterday and picked it up. Admittedly, I was a little tainted by the CBR review; I try not to read reviews about comics I want to own, but I found myself in agreement with a few of Doug Zawisza's assessments. First of all, while I'm a fan of Tom Nguyen's work, this issue seems a little rushed, and specifically his likenesses of Peter and Ray are inconsistent at best, literally fluctuating between vague caricatures of Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd respectively and the designs from the animated series. Also, perhaps more nitpicky from a fanboy's perspective, I'd hoped for something more than a linear plot. I wanted more dangling threads. The only familiar faces we see are the four Ghostbusters themselves -- no Janine, Louis, or Dana. Considering this issue's cliffhanger, I'm sure we'll see them next ish, but I feel like Louis locked out of his apartment. There's potential for a big party here, and I want somebody to "let me iiiiin!"

In The Other Side, the guys are up against a mob of old time gangster ghosts that have the ability to possess people, an apparently unforeseen aspect to ghost-busting based on Egon and Ray's perplexed response. When one of the ghoulish gangsters displaces Peter's soul, the guys spend a majority of the issue researching the phenomenon, until the end when . . . well, I won't spoil it, because the potential to explore complex themes of the spirit world is rich here, if writer Keith Champagne is so bold, which would result in a truly great GB story. He is careful to place this issue in the world of the films, sometime after the sequel, as the lead antagonist expresses concern that the guys have been able to best the likes of Gozer and Vigo (they're mentioned twice, to boot), but the vernacular is all-ages friendly, as is the story's general structure. Fingers crossed that future issues present some complexity, resulting in a crossing of this tale's multifaceted streams.

As a quick aside, one thing that both the Now and this IDW issues have in common is the very feeble attempt at humor on Venkman's part. Of course, Bill Murray's performance in both films is priceless, and Lorenzo Music's deadpan voice acting in the animated series is a childhood guilty pleasure, so writer Champagne and James Van Hise obviously understand what I mean by "big shoes to fill." Fortunately, Champagne dodges the bullet by incapacitating Peter for a majority of the issue, while Van Hise . . . well, his comic was for kids. Lame one-liners get a pass if they can make a kid laugh. 'Nuff said, I guess.

In the shadow of Halloween, a general celebration of the undead, I'm grateful that the Ghostbusters franchise is still alive and well, and that it so infiltrated my hallowed holiday celebration. Sure, it's great to reminisce with the old Now Comics, but this IDW series (not to mention the new video game, but there are other blogs for that) is a very worthy addition to the canon. Indeed, no one human being could stack books like this.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

An excellent assortment of comic book-inspired political cartoons and images can be found here: Highly recommended.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Witch's Roots: The Blair Witch Project comic book

Scary movies are a rich Halloween tradition. This month, Saw V, Quarantine, and The Haunting of Molly Hartley all promise to make this all hallows eve absolutely horrible, in the best possible way, of course. I developed an appreciation of "the scary movie" as legitimate cinematic art in the summer of 1999 with The Blair Witch Project, and although it wasn't released around Halloween, it harkened shades of the holiday with its infamous tagline: "In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary . . . A year later their footage was found." Had Heather, Josh, and Mike been lost in, say, March, would the supernatural circumstances of their wayward camping trip be as creepy?

Boy, remember the hoopla that ensued around the Blair Witch phenomenon? The Sci-Fi Channel aired that pseudo-documentary so many times, even the witch herself would've preferred a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond on TBS. Computer games and a series of junior novels perpetrated the film's mythology for a younger audience, and while its sequel is arguably one of the worst movies ever made, it sustained the franchise for another year and incited another round of handycam-oriented satire. I didn't know until recently that Oni had published a supplemental one-shot, exploring the haunted history of Blair Witch's Burkittsville, so when I found this issue in a 25-cent bin a few months ago, I decided to save it as a Halloween read. Here's my tagline:

"In October of 2008 one comic book blogger disappeared into a comic book about Burkittsville, Maryland, while writing a review . . . A few minutes later his review was posted."

Okay, so my tag isn't as ominous, but it gets the point across, no? Just as the original film used supposedly real footage from those three ill-fated college students, this Oni issue perpetrates the Blair Witch mythology by claiming ties to an independent comic book, called Witch Wood Said, by Maryland's resident nut Cece Malvey, which editor-in-chief Jamie Rich discovered at the Alternative Press Expo. While that concept is interesting enough, writer Jen Van Meter reveals that her grandmother's maiden name is Blair, making her the perfect candidate to adapt the amateurish Witch Wood Said into a mainstream comic. So, just inside the front cover, readers are thrust into a world where witchcraft may be real, and where comic books are the perfect place to purge one's demons. The three short stories therein would almost be inconsequential, then, if they weren't so darn well drawn. Tommy Lee Edwards' photo realistic illustration (best known from Marvel's Earth X), Guy Davis' expressive detail, and Bernie Mireault's cartoony surrealism balance these stories of a haunted colonial New England perfectly. Just as the handycam was the best way to tell the movie's shocking story, these artists were the best picks for their respective contributions, fleshing out the Blair Witch lore with appropriate reverence.

Plenty of people see scary movies around Halloweentime. Unlike those three poor kids in the woods of Burkittsville, the trick is to survive this hallowed holiday without starring in one. Good luck.

The Blair Witch Project comic book was published in September 1999 by Oni Press.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sucking the Life Out of Halloween: Vampirella 2006 Halloween Special

Christmas gets a proverbial twelve days of anticipation and celebration, teeming with carols and gift-giving and office parties, and Easter gets forty days of reflection and introspection with Lent, but what of Halloween? Sure, we spend weeks decorating, brainstorming costumes, watching scary movies, and buying candy, but this isn’t an official calendar countdown. Further, the real festivity is reserved for just a few fleeting nighttime hours, and just as quickly as it comes, it goes. Boycotted by churches and quickly usurped by Christmas, Halloween always gets the short end of the stick . . . but not here at A Comic A Day! Longtime readers know I love Halloween, so this week I’m dedicated to heralding its arrival with a series of holiday-related comic book reviews. Take that, birth of Christ!*

In fact, I picked up Vampirella 2006 Halloween Special several months ago at the Frank & Sons Collectibles Show anticipating this very week, and since I’ve never read a Vampirella story before, what better time than around a holiday that practically celebrates blood sucking? Phil Hester’s credit on the cover certainly sealed the deal, and although he doesn’t illustrate the issue, he is more than capable of writing a suspenseful story with its own peculiar twist. For Halloween, he went for less Big Pumpkin and more Dear Penthouse, with a tale so thick with sexual tension that the terms “trick” and “treat” began to take on a whole new meaning. Of course, when the title character fights crime in a costume made of glorified dental floss, what should I expect? Seriously, Vampirella makes Elvira look like the Warrior Nun -- well, that’s not saying much, either, but you know what I mean.

In this issue, Vampirella befriends a Las Vegas tattoo artist, whose violent past comes back to haunt him thanks to our heroine’s supernatural sense of rough justice, but not before she passes the time under the needle recounting her origin. While longtime Vampirella fans could’ve easily flipped past these two pages, I found the concise flashback, and despite this issue’s roots in Halloween, I certainly won’t be afraid to pick up a future issue starring this demonic damsel . . . even if artist Stephen Segovia’s liberal use of butt cleavage is the norm for Vampirella stories. Since she spent half of this issue under a towel in a tattoo shop, I’m sure Segovia didn’t have much of a choice anyway, but like many readers I can’t imagine that he really complained about it.

Whether or not Halloween ever warrants an official pre-game countdown, aside from ABC Family’s scary movie marathon, Phil Hester uses Vampirella to remind us that, like a tattoo, this hallowed holiday is here to stay. Considering that children and adults alike seize the opportunity to dress up like their favorite superheroes and sci-fi characters, it’s no wonder Halloween has always had a friend in comics.

Vampirella 2006 Halloween Special was published by Harris Comics, written by Phil Hester, illustrated by Stephen Segovia, colored by Jay David Ramos, and lettered by Ed Dukeshire.

*Actually, I already have a fun bunch of Christmas-themed comics to read in December, too . . . Dang, Halloween just can’t win.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

All Good Things: Happy Endings & The Comic Bookie in Claremont, CA

For almost as long as I've known comic books are sold in their own specialty stores, I've known that said stores are a struggling business at best. The first shop my friends and I rode our bikes to in Glendale, Arizona changed its name so soon after we discovered it that I don't even remember what its original name was, and since it moved to another location right around the time my pals were driving, we opted for the more commercially viable Atomic Comics in Phoenix. When I moved to Fullerton, California, I was grateful to find a comics shop right here in town -- 21st Century Comics, which, in the five years I shopped there, moved locations four times, changed management twice, and eventually closed its doors for good. As I've mentioned before, now I opt for Comics, Toons, 'N Toys in Tustin, which recently expanded by purchasing the neighboring space in its strip mall, so I assume business is stable enough to guarantee my patronage for at least a few more years to come.

While the closing of a comic book is tragic for its loyal customers, it can be serendipitous for manic collectors. My collection must have doubled some years ago when a shop closed in Placentia, California, and toward the end of the store's going-out-of-business sale, back issues were a mere dime each. I easily collected the entire Giffin/DeMatties run on Justice League International, and I found the entire Jemm, Son of Saturn miniseries for my buddy Booth. So, when I read that the Comic Bookie in Claremont was having a similar sale, I dragged my girlfriend along for the ride this past Saturday, the soonest day I could get there and coincidentally the date of the shop's last Guest Dealer Event. A similar event is what brought me to the Comic Bookie for the first time last year, when I signed up for the mailing list that eventually informed me of its demise, so my visit was somewhat poetic in its cyclical nature. A tragic poem, it seemed, as I overheard faithful customers bid farewell to Chris, their resident comic book guy. The deals I scored were almost overshadowed by the reality of it all . . . almost.

More about the books in a bit. First, I should explain that any sense of tragedy about the Comic Bookie's closing was quickly averted by Chris's positive attitude, as he explained to new and longtime customers alike that he hoped to host mini-comic cons and retailer shows in downtown Claremont, which, as the home for several private colleges or universities, must foster an artsy community that would embrace such a thing. While on the surface Chris's plan may seem like another attempt to move inventory, the key was his tone -- one that reflected a determination to get comics into the hands of readers by whatever means necessary. Sure, the guy's a business man with profit on his mind, but the guy has a reputation for renting space in his own back room for guest retailers for an extremely reasonable $20 fee. One retailer made his money back from me alone, so I can only imagine what they pull in over the course of a whole day. The implication of Chris's behavior should be embraced by "comic book guys" all over the country; in this economy, competition isn't nearly as valuable to a business plan as networking is, as sharing resources (and thus clientele) is. And I'll stop there before the McCain camp accuses me of being a socialist.

So, I spent about $40 between the 50 cent bins, the 50% off recent back issue bins, and the 30% off graphic novels, and while I'm usually about quantity at sales like this, I was more interested in quality art and storytelling this time around, and I think I found that in such scattered back issues of Spider-man's Tangled Web and Tom Strong, and in long-awaited finds like Scott Morse's LittleGreyMan and all five issues of Dr. Strange: Oath. How fitting, though, that I was most excited to find Dark Horse's 2002 anthology Happy Endings, while the Comic Bookie was celebrating its. Even without the 30% discount, the 96-page collection is a steal for its original $9.95, featuring the works of funnybook bigshots like Frank Miller, Sam Keith, and Brian Michael Bendis, and I was stoked to find contributions by personal favorites like Farel Dalrymple, Jim Mahfood, and James Kochalka, too. Generally speaking, all of the stories are well illustrated and thought-provoking, and though some shine more than others, I was excited to sample works from Peter Kuper, Tony Millionaire, and Harvey Pekar, all beloved authors or artists that I haven't read enough. Anthologies can do that, and in fact Happy Endings was very much the beginning of something I hope to pursue with these talented contributors' other works . . .

Also, since Flight and Popgun have made anthologies all the rage lately, I've been interested in what artists will create for loosely themed compilations like Happy Endings. Editor Diana Schutz explains in her addendum that the artists were simply told to pen a tale that incorporated a "happy ending" idea, a coveted idea in that just post-9/11 world, yet the stories obviously didn't even have to end with one. I expected a short story about the massage parlor happy ending phenomenon, since that's what most would think of when they hear the phrase (oh, don't tell me it's just me), but the closest we get is a single panel gag in Miller's story starring a gun-wielding hooker -- surprise, surprise. Several of the stories tackled autobiographical material, like Bendis's San Diego Comic Con yarn or the more weighty tale of African tribalism by Kuper. Others examined the complexities of childhood fantasy and frustration, from Dalrymple's token surrealism, to Craig Thompson's tale of two children growing up in a slaughterhouse-oriented barn, to Leland Myrick's poetic reminiscence about family. Still other artists tapped into previously established characters and simply did what they do best, from Sam Keith's musings on his career via Maxx villain Mr. Gone to Mahfood's Grrl Scouts joint. Mignola's contribution won the 2003 Eisner award for best short story, and rightfully so, with its poignant visuals and childlike fantasy. Bottom line -- the Miller/Varley cover says it all, featuring a pistol-packing midget. Despite Happy Endings' compact size, don't doubt its ability to pack a punch. And you wouldn't even see it coming from such a flighty title (pun intended)!

And we obviously haven't seen the last of the Comic Bookie, if its customer base has anything to say about it. Apparently Chris will maintain his occasional e-mail newsletter to let us know when his dreams of monthly cons become a reality . . . because they obviously will. In the face of possible defeat and bitterness, this bookie's positive attitude proves you can bet on that.

Happy Endings was published by Dark Horse Comics in September, 2002.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hulk is Halloween Smash! (or, How the Superheroes Stole Halloween)

As I've often referenced (but haven't exploited . . . yet), my day job involves working with kids in an after school program (well, I do blog about it sometimes), and at the end of every week in October, my site has hosted Freaky Film Fridays to celebrate and countdown to Halloween. We've shown The Nightmare Before Christmas and Beetlejuice, but this week we're straying from the Tim Burton catalog and showing the recently released to DVD The Incredible Hulk. Now, some may say that I'm using these cinematic events to inflict my fanboyish lifestyle onto these children, some of whom (gasp) may not like superheroes, but I dare say that The Incredible Hulk is the perfect Halloween flick, and that its release the week before everybody's favorite hallowed holiday is indicative of an entire year influenced by comics!

First of all, the Hulk is a monster, not unlike the classic movie monsters that have come to define Halloween decor for decades. Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Mummy, and the Wolf-Man were all silver screen screamfests before they became 99 Cent Store cardboard cutouts, and, in his own way, the Hulk's popularity is a direct result of that Universal monsters motif. Even ol' Jade Jaws' most definitive character traits are akin to these freaky forefathers; from Dracula's nocturnal nature (the gray Hulk only came out at night, remember?) to the Frankenstein monster's conflicts with humanity, from the Mummy's mysterious strength to the Wolf-man's dueling duality. Stan Lee has cited Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as inspiration for his gamma-radiated anti-hero, but if Thunderbolt Ross didn't have such easy access to a military arsenal, he'd just as easily wave a lighted torch in the Hulk's face. And I think the end result would be the same.

Of course, the Hulk isn't the bad guy, and more so than his strength, his reflection of humanity's anger unleashed is the most frightening aspect of his story. Fortunately, Edward Norton's Hulk quells this fear by focusing his rage, the closest thing to a happy ending Mr. Purple Pants can ever have. No, it's the Abomination that should make geeks' girlfriends clutch their beaus' arms tighter, and now more so than his unleashed anger, the Emil Blonsky's alter ego epitomizes the way to go for future conflicts in comic book movies. Consider the most commercially successful bad guys of the past year: Venom, the Iron Monger in Iron Man, and the Joker in The Dark Knight. All of these villains are proverbial bizarros* for their respective heroes, dark reflections of the heroes' id. (Dr. Doom would fall under this category, too, but I said "commercially successful.") While the Joker's new-found influence is attributed to Ledger's unexpectedly intense performance and unfortunately tragic death, his depiction as an agent of chaos rather than a mutated mobster or mere "clown prince" is in stark contrast to Batman's need for order and justice. What's worse, Alan Moore's adage from The Killing Joke still holds true: there could go I, in the face of one bad day. Good thing this is the stuff of fiction. And by that I mean the idea of a geek having a girlfriend, of course.

A co-worker and I making fools of ourselves for the kids this summer, in homemade gear, before the Clown Prince of Crime and ol' Jade Jaws were coveted costumes! It took weeks for that paint to come off.

Finally, as I've said before, this summer was the summer to be a geek, with the likes of Iron Man, Indiana Jones, Speed Racer, the Hulk, Batman, and Agents Mulder and Scully all finding their way to the box office, and that's not to mention Wanted and the flicks I chose not to see! The second best thing to a summer's worth of releases like that is the month they all finally come to video/DVD/Blu-ray, which in this case is also the month kids of all ages can actually dress up like their favorite characters with little fear of consequence. Is it no surprise that Ledger's Joker is the most popular Halloween costume for boys this year, with Iron Man, Batman, and Dr. Jones also making the list? Interestingly, this phenomenon also speaks of the importance of an actor's likeness in a role, a possible backlash to the recent Terrence Howard/Don Cheadle debacle, in the unlikely event that some kids out there wanted to trick or treat as Jim Rhodes . . . "This is a trick or treating exercise," they could say.

A recent visit to Hot Topic reveals how cool it is to dress up like a superhero. Spidey's mask, Iron Man's helmet, Wolverine's claws, and . . . wait! Pause the DVD! Is that Cap's shield? How did they sneak that in there?

Bottom line? Superheroes aren't the stuff of pop culture background noise anymore. When I was a kid (I know, here we go), Superman and Spider-man costumes were simply the norm, not necessarily tied to the Christopher Reeve films of Saturday morning cartoons. They were simply always available. (However, don't get me started on the year my younger brother opted for Bravestarr's horse. He's still trying to live that down.) Now, Spidey, Iron Man, the Hulk, and their arch-nemeses are front and center. Even if I was showing The Incredible Hulk with some ulterior motive, in some feeble attempt to "fanboy-ize" the children in my after school program so I can write off action figure purchases as "youth development research" or something . . . my old heroes don't need my help. Today's kids know and love them either way. It's when they start schooling me in comic book canon, with questions like, "Why wasn't Rick Jones in the Hulk movie? Wasn't Bruce Banner saving him from a bomb?" Now, that's scary.

My Halloween costume, circa 1984.

*This trend proves that the next Superman flick should stray from the tired old Lex Luthor conflict and give us a slugfest with the original bizarro . . . Bizarro! Think about it, Hollywood! Pay one actor to play the good guy and the bad guy! Huh? Sigh, they never call me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hollywood’s War Machine: Cheadle Replaces Howard for Iron Man 2

Reports that Terrence Howard didn’t know Don Cheadle was slated to replace him in Iron Man 2 has made mainstream news now, at least here in Los Angeles, of course, which means a rebuttal statement about the flexibility in his contract is sure to follow from the studios. Internet rumors aren’t always enough for studios to warrant a statement, but it’s really my fellow fans’ opinions I’ve been thinking about. Was Howard’s role in the film significant enough for fans to issue a backlash?

One of the critical surprises of Iron Man’s success was the actors’ performances, and Howard’s is no exception. His line, “Next time, baby,” was one of the best teasers and fan pleasers in the film! Now, Hollywood has twisted that line and proven him wrong -- “Next time, yes, but not for you, buddy!” Obviously, Colonel Jim Rhodes will play a larger role in Iron Man 2, at least enough to garner an A-lister like Cheadle for the part. Well, for the record, I for one am a little disappointed in the transition. When a studio is so quick to change up its cast in the shadow of success with hopes for something even greater, I wonder what else it would sacrifice from the film’s previous incarnation. Before you know it, Iron Man is fighting a big mechanical spider . . . sigh, with no mention of Alistair Smythe, okay, fellow Marvelites? You know what I mean! Though, speaking of Spider-man, where does the actress that played Betty Brant get off saying that her return in Spider-man 4 would be a favor? In these hard economic times, I’d take any work I can get! Ah, so that’s the real tragedy of Terrence Howard’s situation. He’s been outsourced! Looks like Stark Industries still hasn’t learned its lesson.

The question is, is there a lesson for Hollywood here? Changing actors for a supporting character like The Dark Knight’s Rachel Dawes, destined for death anyway, is inconsequential to the fabric of a comic-to-film’s franchise, but when Howard was cast, fans could already project him as War Machine, a rather important character to the big picture of Marvel’s new tightly inclusive cinematic universe. I mean, who hasn’t predicted a possible end to the highly anticipated Avengers film involving a jealous War Machine setting up shop with a similar set of heroes on the west coast? With everything still in development, these thoughts and questions are mostly rhetorical fanboy drivel. Nevertheless, contrary to what Iron Man would want . . . I’m up in arms.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Microwaves Are Just Too Slow

My girlfriend surprised me with this shirt from You want to talk about a final crisis? Not getting a Hungry Man warmed up in time for The Simpsons. Can't miss that couch gag!


'Nuff said!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Shirt Off My Back: The "Green Goblin Bending Over for Spider-man?” Tee

Living in Southern California, I haven’t had much trouble encountering a comic a day, or at least the influence of comic books on popular culture. Last month, at the Los Angeles County Fair, I took my picture with the incredible Hulk and his Hollywood alter ego Lou Ferrigno -- okay, they’re cardboard props, but of all the celebrities and fictional characters to feature in a homage to Hollywood? Other superstars should be green with envy.

Notice the shirt I was wearing, featuring an image of a beaten Green Goblin and an amazingly enraged Spider-man. (I think this image originally appeared in the Amazing Spider-man issue following Gwen Stacy’s death, if anyone wants to confirm . . .?) I wore this shirt a few weeks later at another Los Angeles event, specifically the West Hollywood Book Fair, where I was taken by a hilarious caricature of the Golden Girls on a T-shirt at the Prism Comics booth. The WeHo Book Fair features a whole comics pavilion, where I picked up Axiom’s Fat Boy & Harvey and Mike Wellman's Mac Afro in previous years, and that featured Len Wein and Ray Bradbury this year -- so it’s the real deal, a genuine comics culture happening. But I digress . . .

So I was taken by this awesome caricature of the Golden Girls, which stands as one of my top five favorite sitcoms of all time. (That’s a list for another blog, I think.) I asked the gentlemen working the booth if they had the image on a free promotional card, and they were kind enough to give me a whole calendar full of work by artist Glen Hanson, featuring similar cartoons of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was grateful for the offering, and still am, but what stands out from the brief exchange is their reasoning for the gift. Handing me the calendar, the guy says to me, he says, “Anything for someone wearing a shirt with Green Goblin bending over for Spider-man!” Uhm. Thanks?

If you haven’t considered the context clues, this fair is in West Hollywood. Prism Comics, boasting a Golden Girls T-shirt . . .? Yes, Prism Comics is a gay-oriented publication group. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But to liken that visual excerpt of Spidey and the Goblin to something homosexual . . . well, that strikes me as queer, in the classical sense. Old, campy comics are often susceptible to perverted misinterpretation, right up until the mid-‘80s, thanks to VH1’s I Love the ‘80s analysis of Prince Adam’s purple pants and man-on-Beastman wrestle fests. John Lustig has made a career of it with his on-line Last Kiss. Still, when the image is on my chest, I must object to the unnecessary sexualization of my favorite superheroes, gay or straight.

This might sound immature, but comics have enough sexual inadequacy that we don’t have to project our own issues into these, well, issues. Consider Spidey’s current “One More Day” storyline, the result of an editorial decision to undo a married Spider-man and make him more empathetic to a younger audience. (Mark Waid and some other writers had a similar idea for Superman several years ago.) A recent installment of Comic Book Resources’ “Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed” tells the story of a defunct issue of The New Mutants starring a suicidal gay mutant teenager. Avid comic book fans know, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but these two examples, while different in context, both essentially denounce our heroes’ sexuality -- because an unmarried Supes or Spidey inadvertently reverts them to the bumbling dorks of yesteryear, Clark Kent in an impossible pursuit of the Big-S smitten Lois Lane, and Peter Parker blushing over his crush of the month. For Anole in The New Mutants, ignoring the consequences of his homosexuality may have saved his life, but the avoidance of the issue may have cost a gay comic fan a few more years of confusion and grief. Are either of these archetypes what we really want young men relate to?

The result of this censorship is what I experienced at the book fair: “Anything for someone wearing a shirt with Green Goblin bending over for Spider-man!” Misplaced sexuality. As long as our favorite heroes aren’t allowed to mature with their readership -- sometimes getting married, sometimes getting divorced, sometimes facing social prejudice, sometimes living happily ever after -- they’ll never be able to say more to their potential love interests than what the Golden Girls proverbially said to each other every week: “Thank you for being a friend.” I’m sure Spidey would bend over backwards, or give the shirt off his back, for something more substantial than that.